I did not know what “cheugy” was until I read an article about it, which – let’s face it – was the beginning of the end.
A couple of weeks ago, reporters covered a new term that had emerged on TikTok, used to describe an internet aesthetic defined by Minions memes, EOS lip balms and the app known as “Pinterest”.
To be “cheugy” – according to Taylor Lorenz of the New York Times’ write-up – is to be “out of date or trying too hard”. Other cheugy traits – according to the Instagram account @cheuglife, which documents all things cheugy – include captioning your 22nd birthday Instagram post with “I’m feelin’ 22”, à la the Taylor Swift song, and wearing wedges.
As someone who had a tab open for an adult sippy cup decorated with a bootlegged Louis Vuitton decal, ready to be ordered on pay-day, I was forced to do some soul searching.
My very first response to discovering the world of cheuginess was alarm. It was the first time I’d seen one of those articles describing a funny internet word or phenomenon and had no idea what it was. It was also humbling because much of what seemed to be implicated as cheugy sounded like things I genuinely enjoy, such as calling people “girlie” (started as a joke, now I just do it) and getting a blow-dry, which I consider to be one of life’s most appealing luxuries. As a lot of commentators have pointed out, “cheugy” – a word invented by a 23-year-old – feels in some ways like a byword for “old”.
In some ways, cheuginess is just the latest instalment of the Gen Z vs millennial internet saga that has unfolded over the last few months (culminating in those absolutely heinous raps about, like, skinny jeans or whatever the fuck), with Gen Z finding yet another way to make millennials look undignified online.
While I hold no truck with people who are sincerely insulted because someone younger than them said they didn’t like the placement of their hair parting, this does throw up an interesting point about how millennials are no longer the youngest demographic online.
As with any generation, there is very little that all millennials have in common. But millennials have always been the youngest people online, since online began. So one of the most salient ways in which we have collectively been able to define ourselves in opposition to our parents, from the Gen X and Boomer demographics, is our generally more efficient use of the internet. Still now, we laugh about older family members typing on a phone screen with one finger, calling it “the Facebook”.
So when people who are younger (and crucially, who have been online for their entire lives) come along and start using the internet to say that the stuff millennials like both in their real lives and online is bad – nay; that it’s cheugy – it’s a funny little recalibration to make. Nothing major, of course, but just another reminder that you’re ageing (like when you turn 27 and your face just drops in an indescribable but deeply palpable way, and nobody warns you about it). In your late twenties and early thirties, this in itself is a new thing to contend with.
I have a theory that millennials learning to share the internet accounts for the anxiety that online media – largely written by millennials – currently has around Gen Z, and specifically TikTok, which is thought of as Gen Z’s online avatar (even though they’re far from the only demographic who use it.)
As many critics before me have observed, both on Twitter and in articles, there’s a whole genre of internet writing – outside of actual reporting – that basically just tells its readers what’s going on on TikTok, and makes some general gestures towards the idea that the trend in question will “save us all”, or – on the other hand – that it’s an example of our “cursed timeline”. This stuff always reads to me like millennials trying to translate Gen Z into their own online language (quite literally, when common internet parlance like the phrases above are used), and maybe even attempting to retain online ownership by formalising organic and rapidly moving trends in the shape of “official” articles and explainers.
This relates to the whole “cheugy” thing, because ultimately, I think cheuginess probably comes for everyone in the end – as does ageing. Part of cheuginess, as far as I can gather, is liking stuff that is no longer cool, and because all of our tastes are formed by the culture surrounding us at different times, that stuff will necessarily go out of date at some point in time. But there also comes a time in your life when you stop caring – I’m getting there – and you just like the stuff you like. Do you think middle-aged women give a shit about what we think of their “Live, Laugh, Love” wall hangings? They do not: they’re too busy vibing next to their fridges adorned with “But first, wine!” magnets.
That is the energy I’m hoping to embody from here on out. So yes, I will be buying the sippy cup, because I like it! And when people younger than me gently roast my interests and tastes on TikTok, I will laugh in a sophisticated, older manner (while using sippy cup), and I will smile a faraway smile as I shrug and look out onto the horizon, and say, simply: “Good for them. It is their internet now.”